Keeping an Eye on the Future

Sanford HollanderSanford “Sandy” Hollander has lost count of how many trips he’s taken to Israel. “Somewhere around 120, I think,” he says. This, however, seems to be the only detail about his 80-plus-year life that he can’t recollect clearly. He remembers quite clearly the first time he saw an example of “Jewish responsibility” – he prefers this phrase to “philanthropy” – he saw from his father. He remembers, and celebrates, the anniversary of the first time he met his wife-to-be, Roz. He remembers the first time he made a meaningful gift to the UJA Campaign and when he endowed his gift. And so much more.

Sandy uses these memories of his, and his phenomenal gift for storytelling, in one of his proudest roles as a volunteer fundraiser for Jewish Federation, which he’s been doing for more than 50 years. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves…

Sandy grew up in the rural town of Newton in Sussex County, New Jersey, where he still lives today. “There are more cows than people out here,” he says, and clearly very few Jews or signs of Jewish life. His father, an immigrant from Czarist Russia (now Belarus), settled in Newton because he liked the bucolic landscape, and built a small house painting business and his family there. There was a small shul where the handful of Jews prayed, although they had no official rabbi. The Jews in the town were the merchants – most of them were poor. But Sandy clearly recounts the story of how, on the High Holidays, the congregants would bid for the honors during the services. “The biggest honor of them all,” he said, “was to open the ark during the Yom Kippur afternoon service. This was an honor that, year after year, went to Schmya, a poor but pious rag trader in town.” One year, when Sandy was eight or nine years old, there was a rumor that Nathan, the nonobservant wealthy baker, was going to bid against Schmya for the honor of opening the ark, sending the small community into a tizzy.

The bidding war that ensued resulted in Sandy’s father outbidding Nathan and paying $100 – an astronomical sum at that time – for the honor, which he then handed over to his friend Schmya. That evening, back at home, Sandy listened as his mother scolded her husband for spending this money, which they clearly couldn’t afford. Sandy remembers his father listening to his mother, nodding quietly, and then calmly responding, “What better thing could I do with our money?”

Sandy describes his father as a quiet, uneducated man who believed strongly in responsibility and hard work. “A man who doesn’t go to sleep tired hasn’t fulfilled his responsibility,” he remembers his father saying. His father’s sense of responsibility was clearly handed down.

Growing up in Newton, Sandy never had Jewish peers, and says he never really identified as being Jewish, though he had a deep understanding that he was different from the other kids because he was Jewish. As a young man at Columbia University, he says he “loved being in Harlem and became immersed in African-American culture.” It was the 1950s, the era of Brown vs Board of Education, and the early years of Israel, with the Sinai War and other conflicts. Sandy began to shape his political views, but it wasn’t until he met his soon-to-be wife, Roz, that he “truly became Jewish.” She was a fashion illustrator on Madison Avenue, and it took a lot of persuading to convince her to move out to Newton, but she eventually relented, if he would agree to four stipulations: (1) They would keep a Kosher home; (2) He would have to join her at Shabbat services once their children were born; (3) He was never to speak negatively about any aspect of Judaism in front of the children, even in jest; and (4) They had to visit Israel.

This is the point in his story where Sandy discovers the UJA Campaign for the first time – a discovery that becomes a huge part of his life. As a young lawyer in Newton, he began legal representation of a local Jewish businessman who conducted the annual UJA Annual Campaign in their area. When this man died, Sandy inherited the role, and, as with any responsibility he’s faced, he took it very seriously. In his first year, 1967, he raised $13,000 in Newton, making him “a bit of a legend” in the New Jersey Jewish community. This young promising fundraiser was invited to participate in the Young Leadership Cabinet Mission to Israel, launching his love of the country and enabling him to fulfill promise #4 to Roz. After that trip, he and Roz upped their annual UJA gift to $1,000, which was a big stretch for them at the time. As a small-town attorney, he often felt intimidated by the large gifts many of his colleagues, major donors, were able to make, but he soon realized that each person is responsible for making a quality gift within their own means, and that as long as he was doing so, he felt comfortable asking others to do the same.

From then on, Sandy served in a number of Jewish communal leadership positions, including on the Executive Committee of National UJA and for many years as a member of the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency for Israel. He was also one of the founding members of the Morris Sussex Jewish Federation, along with Seymour Epstein, who served as the first president, and Dan Drench. “We were like the Three Musketeers,” he remembered of the team that built the small organization which then merged into the much larger Federation of MetroWest in 1983. “When the opportunity came up to merge, it was decided what would be best for the Jews of Essex, Morris and Sussex Counties, but we insisted that a minimum percent of the annual allocations go overseas. We were all very committed to Israel.”

When Seymour passed away, Sandy, Dan, and Seymour’s widow, Sally, set up the Epstein Fund and, based on the suggestion of then Federation CEO Max Kleinman, dedicated the fund to developing a Leadership Mission in Israel to recruit and train the next generation of community leaders and fundraisers. In total about 40 young leaders experienced the Epstein Mission, and “I would say 60 percent of them are currently serving in leadership roles,” he said proudly. On the mission, participants learned the value of sharing personal stories when soliciting gifts. Sandy, his wife, Roz, Sally Epstein, and Barbara Drench participated in each of these missions, teaching the next generation to take the reins of leadership.

Throughout his 50+-year involvement in our Federation, and now, as a proud member of the Ner Tamid Society, Sandy Hollander has always kept an eye on the future. After all, he sees it as his responsibility. He’s passionate about his work with future leaders and about his involvement in the Ness Foundation, a JCF initiative and the result of a Ner Tamid commitment, which is dedicated to the development of the Negev region in Israel and is critical to the future of Israel. And he is passionate about endowing their gift.

“Roz and I decided to endow our gift to Federation as an extension of what we’ve always been doing. We are committed to the Jewish community… we are committed to the survival of the Jewish State and of the nearly 7 million Jews living there… We are committed to taking care of the Jews still living in the Former Soviet Union… We are committed to a thriving and creative Jewish life in the United States… (His list goes on and on.) As Jews, we have a responsibility for all of these things.”

Sandy Hollander has built his life around taking responsibility in remembering the past and keeping his eye on the future. His endowed gift will ensure that his commitment will make an impact on the Jewish community for generations to come.